White Gold: The True Costs of Cotton Production

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The Central Asian Republic of Uzbekistan happens to be the second largest exporter of cotton in the world. One third (1/3) of its population works in the billion dollar industry, and a large majority of those individuals are children. In addition to concern over children’s rights, the situation presents an emerging environmental crisis tied to irrigation and natural resource management. With an over-reliance on dangerous pesticides and economic dependence on cotton, the country is in a difficult position. Yet, Uzbekistan is not solely at fault. Western companies are also complicit by negotiating business with industry officials and consistently purchasing product. Similarly, Western consumers (e.g. Americans and Europeans) reinforce the situation by continuing to purchase Uzbek-grown cotton and demanding price-quality paradigms at such a high human and environmental cost.

How do we navigate ourselves out of such complex socio-eco-nomic mess?

Here are some three simple steps that we as consumers can do to make a difference:

1) Ask your retailer where your cotton has been sourced. If they don’t know, chances are some or all came from Uzbekistan, or some other country where human rights or environmental abuses are part of the production equation. There are plenty of fair trade, organic options out there, seek them out, buy them and promote them to others.

2) Be wary of inexpensive product. If something is cheap, it is probably too good to be true. Cotton is one of the most expensive, labor, pesticide and water intensive crops to grow in the world. It is associated with huge environmental and human costs. If the end product is very inexpensive, chances are someone or something (e.g. natural resources) is paying the real price. Think before you shop. You can start to change the world through your purchases.

3) Buy green, buy organic and buy fair trade. When laborers and craftsmen are given a fair, living wages, the end product will reflect this cost. In addition, when fabrics are organically grown without harmful pesticides, they can be more expensive to maintain and grow. As conscientious consumers, we need to be willing to assume some of this cost. It’s the best way to drive the market toward greater sustainability and equitability. If enough demand existed, even Uzbekistan would move toward organic crops and higher wage production. The market is more powerful than one might think.

Finally, I encourage you to watch this short video directed, produced and supported by the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF):

White Gold: The True Cost of Cotton. It is truly enlightening.

www.ejfoundation.org/page85.html

Credits: the Title of this blog was inspired by the above video. Thank you, EJF!

Photo source: The Environmental Justice Foundation

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3 Comments

  1. September 29, 2007 at 9:56 am

    Hello,

    The film ‘White Gold: the true cost of cotton’ was investigated, produced and released by the Environmental Justice Foundation for their international campaign on cotton.

    EJF is a registered charity established in 2000 to empower people who suffer most from environmental abuses to find peaceful ways of preventing them.

    EJF provides film and advocacy training to individuals and grassroots organisations in the global south, enabling them to document, expose and create long term solutions to environmental abuses.

    EJF campaigns internationally to raise awareness of the issues our grassroots partners are working to solve locally.

    Today EJF has a team of campaigners and film-makers based in London, and works internationally with partners in Brazil, Vietnam, Mali, Uzbekistan and Indonesia.

    Please amend your film link to the original source:
    http://www.ejfoundation.org/page325.html

    Thank you!

    Larissa

  2. September 29, 2007 at 10:00 am

    Hi there

    This film was not produced by Green TV but by the Environmental Justice Foundation for their international campaign to clean up cotton production.

    Please amend the link to go to the original source http://www.ejfoundation.org/page85.html

    EJF is a registered charity established in 2000 to empower people who suffer most from environmental abuses to find peaceful ways of preventing them.

    EJF provides film and advocacy training to individuals and grassroots organisations in the global south, enabling them to document, expose and create long term solutions to environmental abuses.

    EJF campaigns internationally to raise awareness of the issues our grassroots partners are working to solve locally.

    Today EJF has a team of campaigners and film-makers based in London, and works internationally with partners in Brazil, Vietnam, Mali, Uzbekistan and Indonesia.

    Thank you for helping us raise awareness and thoughts on this important issue!

    Best

    Larissa

  3. May 6, 2008 at 4:32 am

    [...] So lets take a closer look at the first 10 miles of apparel production. For a garment to be sold at a price as low as $8.98 – guess what the fabric had to cost per yard before dying – a heck of a lot cheaper than that! Probably less than a dollar per yard. Furthermore, we must also think about how many pesticides were spilled into waterways and the food chain as a result of the cotton grow (see post). In addition, how many children were employed to pick that cotton or spray the pesticides? How many laborers were paid insufficient wages and make the fabric and what kinds of dyes were used? For more information on the real costs of cotton, see White Gold: the true costs of cotton production. [...]


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